Milwaukee Brewers: Make or break season for Jimmy Nelson

Apr 18, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson (52) throws against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 18, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson (52) throws against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Milwaukee Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson gets the ball Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays and looks to make his third straight quality start. Nelson has pitched well lately after going through a rough stretch back in April, but he’s going to need to be more consistent if he wishes to remain in the rotation long-term.

We’ve already seen one starting pitcher move to the bullpen this season and Jimmy Nelson is looking to avoid the same fate as Wily Peralta.

2016 was a tale of two seasons for Jimmy Nelson. His first two months were so dominant and he looked like the ace the Milwaukee Brewers hoped he would become. Nelson had eight quality starts in his first 11 outings. He also went at least six innings in nine of those starts and owned a 2.88 ERA heading into June. As soon as the calendar turned to June, Nelson’s season went down the proverbial toilet.

Of Nelson’s 20 starts during the remainder of 2016, he made it through six innings only six times and allowed three runs or more 13 times. Because of this second half drop-off, Nelson started this season as the fifth starter. So how has he fared so far this season? Well, the results are mixed.

Nelson went six innings in his first start and seven innings in his second start, allowing only one run in both games. He looked like himself again. In the next three games, he struggled again throwing fewer than six innings and allowed at least four runs in each.

In his three most recent starts, he’s pitched well. Nelson was cruising through three innings against Pittsburgh before a rain delay cut his day short. He dominated over six and two-thirds innings against a powerful Boston lineup and also handled the Padres through six.

Why Did Nelson Start So Well?

Nelson’s good start to this season is attributed to an increased percentage of strikes thrown. He has thrown 67% of his pitches for strikes through the first two months. That’s an increase from the 63% that he threw in 2016.

Nelson went into the season looking to decrease the amount of walks he’s allowed and has done a good job of that so far. His 15 walks allowed are the lowest among the four main rotation members this season. However, ten of those walks came in only two starts against St. Louis and Boston. Nelson is tied for the most strikeouts on the pitching staff.

What Does The Future Hold For Nelson?

When Nelson joined the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2014 season, he was the team’s top prospect. The Brewers believed that he would become a solid No. 2 starter. Now, two and a half seasons later, Nelson is barely in the rotation as the fifth starter. He has yet to post a sub-4.00 ERA in a full season. He also led the National League in losses last season with 16.

The Brewers are in rebuild mode and, with a highly ranked farm system. Pitching reinforcements are on the way. Josh Hader, the best LHP prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, should join the rotation at some point this season. Brandon Woodruff, Jorge Lopez, and Luis Ortiz should also see action at the Major League level soon.

When these pitchers get called up, someone has to leave the rotation and Jimmy Nelson is already on the edge. If Nelson is going to stay in the rotation, he needs to continue going deeper into games and stop getting into deep counts. His high pitch counts have a lot to do with his inability to pitch through the sixth inning.

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This season is going to tell the Brewers whether or not Jimmy Nelson has a future in the rotation. If he can turn it around; go deep into games, prevent the big inning, and control his pitch count, Nelson will force the Brewers to keep him in the rotation. If not, it’s time to wonder if Jimmy Nelson will be a part of the next Milwaukee Brewers playoff team.